South Floridians now have a new option for experiencing Costa Cruises unique brand of Italian-style cruising.
Earlier this month, the Genoa, Italy-based cruise line deployed its 2,260-passenger Costa Luminosa cruise ship to South Florida, making it the line's newest and largest ship ever to sail from Miami.
Dubbed "The Ship of Light," Luminosa is sailing seasonal 10-day Caribbean voyages from PortMiami, with six stops scheduled at ports in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Cayman Islands and Mexico, and other destinations.
The Miami departures will offer cruisers "a taste of Italy in the tropics," said Scott Knutson, vice president of sales and marketing for Costa's North American operations during a ship tour Tuesday.
"We don't want to Americanize the product as we have other sister brands that offer that experience," Knutson said. "It's a completely international experience and we have nationalities from all over the world [aboard]."
Costa is a unit of Miami-based Carnival Corp. & PLC, whose 10 cruise brands also include namesake Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn and Cunard.
Luminosa entered service in 2009 and its features and amenities include three pools, four restaurants, 11 bars, a 4D cinema, spa and casino. Sixty-eight percent of its 1,130 cabins have a private balcony — the highest percentage across Costa's fleet.
The ship's decor and interior design are unapologetically Italian-themed, such as the "Reclining Woman 2004" sculpture by artist Fernando Botero in the ship's atrium. Similar accents can be found in other works of art around the ship.
Menus in restaurants are also Italian-focused, although international fare is available.
"It helps to see the cabins, see the ship [layout], and taste the food to better understand what it has to offer," said Mari Zammit, an independent cruise consultant for Delray Beach-based iCruise.com who toured the ship Tuesday. "Today [cruising] is more about the ship and less about the destination."
While Costa typically attracts an international audience, about 900 guests from North America sailed on its Dec. 17 departure, the result of a "big Christmas" marketing push, Knutson said. By comparison, last week's sailing had about 280 North Americans.
Cruise sales for the 65-year-old Italian cruise company took a hit after its Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground Jan. 13, 2012, in waters off Giglio Island, Italy, after hitting submerged rocks. The incident killed 32 passengers and crew.
While Costa officials contend sales have rebounded since the incident, helped in part by attractive cruise pricing, industry challenges remain, such as the shaky European economy.
"The South Florida market for the Caribbean [sailings] remains strong," said Ruben Perez, Costa's general manager, North America. "Our ships are going full, which is a good thing,"
Fares for Luminosa's Dec. 27 cruise start at $699 per person double occupancy for an inside cabin, according to Costa's website, costacruise.com.
That pricing offers extra value as it's about the same as a 7-day Caribbean cruise on competitor ships, Knutson noted. "We are excited to be able to expose more North American guests to our international product and let them see firsthand what makes Costa the No. 1 cruise line in Europe."
Starting in January, Costa plans to restrict smoking to cigar bars on its ships and a handful of other designated areas, bringing it in line with cruise lines already offering smoke-free environments in public spaces and cabins, Knutson said.
By Arlene Satchell, Sun Sentinel
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